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Local Knowledge MattersPower, Context and Policy Making in Indonesia$

Kharisma Nugroho, Fred Carden, and Hans Antlov

Print publication date: 2018

Print ISBN-13: 9781447348078

Published to Policy Press Scholarship Online: January 2019

DOI: 10.1332/policypress/9781447348078.001.0001

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Conclusion: improving public policy through local assets

Conclusion: improving public policy through local assets

(p.139) Seven Conclusion: improving public policy through local assets
Local Knowledge Matters
Kharisma Nugroho, Fred Carden, Hans Antlov
Policy Press

Abstract and Keywords

The final chapter reflects on what we have learned from looking across the ten case studies of the use of local knowledge in policy processes. It reflects on the importance of the use of multiple forms of knowledge or the co-production of knowledge, particularly in a diverse and decentralised country such as Indonesia. It also reflects on the strategies that have been used in bringing local knowledge to policies, and the importance of treating local knowledge as an asset rather than a liability. It identifies the tensions that must be managed in bringing multiple forms of evidence and their diverse values and origins. The new role of ‘experts’ is discussed, to support communities to understand policy options, and to provide a level playing field and opportunities for deliberative democracy more generally. Finally, the chapter reflects on ways that local knowledge can enrich public policy in an era of post-truth politics.

Keywords:   local knowledge, tensions, policy making, co-production, post-truth

The use of knowledge and evidence in public policy has been a popular topic of discussion over the past decade. Much research and many projects have focused on how evidence can be better used in public policy to improve the potential for policy success. Policy makers do not rely solely on evidence to make decisions. They must take political considerations into account as well as pressures from communities, the business sector and the opposition. But when they do rely on evidence, they tend to privilege scientific evidence. As a result, holders of local knowledge have to be strategic in getting their messages into the policy process.

The evidence-informed policy literature has focused largely on formal scientific evidence – how can it be used, how can science get better at communicating its evidence in ways policy makers can use, how can policy makers be better informed about seeking evidence and interpreting it? While some have acknowledged that other forms of evidence should also be considered, little attention has focused on how to achieve this or what we mean by other forms of evidence. An important exception to this is the work supported by the Centers for Disease Control (Puddy and Wilkins, 2011), which defines three types (p.140) of evidence: the best and most rigorous research evidence (what we term scientific knowledge); the most knowledgeable experience and expertise (professional knowledge); and values and perspectives of the person or community affected by the intervention (local knowledge). Here, they do not go far enough in our view, as they treat local knowledge as values and perspectives rather than as an actual source of knowledge.

This volume, based on the experience generated through ten diverse case studies of the influence of local knowledge on public policy, is a contribution to opening up discussion of what we mean by other forms of knowledge and how their influence is generated.

We started from the premise that local knowledge is an important consideration in public policy and that we wanted to understand more about how it was important and what we could learn from that about the potential of local knowledge to grow its influence. We situated local knowledge as one of three types of knowledge: scientific, professional and local. Each uses a different evidence base and each plays a role. Scientific evidence comes from research and pilot programmes that demonstrate the value of a particular intervention. Professional knowledge comes from a mix of the evidence from science, the experience of the professionals, and their knowledge of formal and informal systems – in other words bringing the evidence and the context together. Local knowledge comes from the history and experience of citizens and communities in how to survive and grow in their own settings. We wanted to understand more about why that mattered and what implications it holds for the future of improving the contribution of knowledge to better public policies.

The debate around how knowledge influences public policy increasingly recognises that it is not only about ‘what works’ so that we know which policies we can apply, but also about what works for whom and in what context (Pawson, 2006; Carden, 2009; Cartwright and Hardie, 2012). This is a recognition that context and power matter a great deal in public policy. Different places and different communities, even different groups within communities – men and women, young and old, rich and poor – are differentially affected by a new policy. (p.141) What we have seen through these case studies is that local knowledge can make a powerful contribution to a better understanding of context and the differential effects of policies on different communities and in different locations, particularly where there is a strong interest in and support for the co-production of knowledge.

This recognition of differential impacts is increasingly important in Indonesia as the country moves to a much more decentralised system of governance with increasing power at the local level. There is stronger demand for policies that take into account local conditions, and less tolerance for one-size-fits-all national policies, especially in a country as diverse as Indonesia, with more than 300 cultural groups across an archipelago of over 17,000 islands. The opportunities and the needs to integrate local knowledge to adapt local policies are keenly important in this context.

Local knowledge is not, by definition, good or bad. Politics and power are at play. We saw cases where local knowledge put one clan in a position of power over other clans, as well as situations where the interpretation of local knowledge reinforces the power of one part of the community (usually men) over another, thereby reinforcing inequities. Local knowledge does not always travel well; what works in one community may not work in another, so the indiscriminate application of local knowledge to policy can have serious negative consequences, as discussed in the case of discriminatory local regulations that were said to have been inspired by local values in Chapter Six.

Like all forms of knowledge, local knowledge evolves and is affected by the world around it. It is not a return to a romantic past, but very much a modern, living, evolving knowledge that guides the evolution of communities. Even in cases where the knowledge can be traced back to the 1600s, change is ever present. It is affected by sudden events and disasters, such as the tsunami in Aceh in 2004 that wiped out communities and with them the local knowledge that guided many of the economic and social patterns of surrounding communities. It is affected by climate change that challenges traditional growing patterns. Migration, the arrival of other cultural groups, can have an impact: do (p.142) norms and rules encoded in local knowledge in a particular location apply to immigrants from another region? How will they learn and adapt these rules to their ways of life? How is a clash of values managed when a whaling community becomes a tourist destination?

Not all interactions between scientific, professional and local knowledge end well, but we saw that they have the potential to contribute to much stronger policies. These are cases we can learn from to highlight some ways in which local, professional and scientific knowledge can work together to create better policies for social and economic development. The co-production of knowledge and the integration of different types of knowledge is a powerful tool in bringing evidence to policy processes. Because it gives more political legitimacy, as it is generated through community participation, co-production of knowledge will improve the policy by helping to address the feasibility of the policy in terms of what is technically feasible, politically appropriate, economically feasible and contextual.

Knowledge assets and strategies

Based on an exploration of how local knowledge is communicated and who needs to be influenced, Chapter Five illustrated three strategies used to bring local knowledge into the policy process:

  1. 1. relationship-based strategies around communicating not only with policy makers but other groups and individuals who influence them;

  2. 2. treating local knowledge as an electoral asset, presenting it as an aspiration for addressing voter concerns;

  3. 3. improving community participation through the co-production of knowledge, so that there are multiple pressures on decision makers to consider what local knowledge has to offer.

None of these strategies guarantees influence but they demonstrate the political nature of policy influence and how local knowledge holders are engaging. Some are intimidated by professional knowledge, but these cases illustrate that where local knowledge holders have the (p.143) confidence and support to engage with scientists, bureaucrats and politicians, they can make a difference. The strategies cut across the cases and demonstrate that where there is respect for (and by) local knowledge, it contributes not only to more relevant policies, but, what is important, to their implementation. At its core, local knowledge has often not been treated as an asset but as a liability that holds communities back. Successful implementation of local policies often happened when local leaders treated local forms of knowledge as important assets that needed to be politically supported.

What our cases illustrate is an important interplay between local, professional and scientific sources of knowledge. But it does not always go smoothly. Expectations, values and beliefs behind each form of knowledge influence how they interact. Here we suggest that it helps to understand this by looking at the tensions between these forms of knowledge.

Our case studies of local knowledge show that public policy making is a political-economy arena and therefore needs collaboration between technical evidence (complementary arguments between local knowledge and professional and scientific knowledge) and political efforts (participation and citizen engagement in local development processes). This complementarity has led to positive results in influencing the public policy-making process. Our case studies show that in various forms and intensities, our partners convinced local authorities to institutionalise local practices and knowledge to ensure the sustainability of the initiative. But we also found that adopted local knowledge for one practice did not necessarily make a difference to the policy-making process on other issues. Local organisations need to convince the politically appointed leader, not only the bureaucrats, that their initiative will provide value for them.

As we look at these cases, we see that there are a number of tensions at play between local knowledge and other forms of knowledge. Tensions are a way to describe the fact that ‘the pursuit of multiple and competing values, ends and benefits inevitably gives rise to challenges about how to achieve balance’ (Patrizi and Patton, 2009: 5). The point is not to resolve the tensions. There are no winners and losers and (p.144) these tensions are not resolvable. Rather they are part of the tapestry of building knowledge. The goal is to appreciate the differences and recognise that, in bringing forms of knowledge together, the tensions need to be addressed and accommodations made. This is reflected in the respect that each has for the other and underpins strong relationships across knowledge types. The tensions described below do not operate in isolation from each other and can only be separated here for purposes of description. They interact with and affect each other. How one understands diverging interests affects all the other tensions. Five broad tensions are evident in our cases. A tension is successfully addressed where respect for the different points of view results in a co-production of knowledge that integrates the local with the scientific and professional.

Audience priority

The first tension is between scientific rigour and community participation, and between scientific rigour and the needs of the policy maker. Each audience has its own priorities and these do not always easily align. These tensions are complemented by tensions between interest in the influence of any form of knowledge on policy and the other influences at play in policy making. An aspect of audience priority is the tension between the focus on scientific disciplines and the more system-wide focus of local knowledge, and the somewhat middle ground of the policy maker who must adjudicate between the knowledge being used and the political imperatives of the day.

Problem definition

The second tension is between local problem definition in the case of local knowledge holders and the regional/national/global problem definition of policy makers and, frequently, scientists. Local knowledge is highly context driven and specific, whereas science seeks to generalise. In terms of perspective on problem definition, the scientific perspective on objectivity and dispassionate study contrasts sharply (p.145) with the values-based approach that underpins local knowledge; in this respect, the policy maker tends to be pragmatic. In all forms of knowledge, we see top-down and bottom-up approaches to problem definition. This is a horizontal issue where we cannot see a clear distinction between types of knowledge, but it remains a tension in the use of knowledge.

Unit of analysis

The third broad tension relates to the unit of analysis. With local knowledge, the analysis is at the level of the community and the effects on the health and wellbeing of the community. More often, science looks at disciplinary analysis. There is tension between forms of knowledge and political feasibility, as well as between the interests and perspectives of the policy elite versus pluralism. In decisions based on the unit of analysis, when the bureaucracy attempts to create regulations based on local knowledge, it risks over-extending the reach of that local knowledge and imposing it on communities that do not adhere or agree. Matching the levels of operation is important here.

Unit of impact

Fourth, local knowledge users focus on impacts in their local communities, whereas science is interested in general knowledge, and professional knowledge users are often more interested in national or global systems. The outcomes being sought are also in tension, between outcomes in the community itself and outcomes in the growth of knowledge. For some, it is the growth of the pool of knowledge that is the most important outcome. For most local knowledge holders, the primary outcome is around improved wellbeing of their community.

Sources of knowledge

We have seen that there are two broad types of what we call local knowledge. The first is ‘local wisdom’ inherited through generations. (p.146) Examples of this are the melesi social insurance practice in Southeast Sulawesi, the sasi marine management practice in Maluku, and the mawah profit-sharing practices in Aceh. The second source is contemporary citizen knowledge. It is part of a contextual and living discourse, contested through everyday interactions and through interpretation by citizens of the multiple forms of knowledge that are part of their lived experience – the social capital that allows individuals to become citizens and establish communities. Examples of this are the new forms of agro-meteorology to adapt to climate change, the everyday forms of resistance against mining, and community-based water management in Kupang and Banjarmasin. Both of these are valid forms of local knowledge, but it is useful to differentiate between them.

New roles, new rules

Policy making should not depend solely on the judgement of professionals or be part of highly scripted consultations with largely pre-determined outcomes. Citizens should be able to question, challenge and deliberate with the government. Professionals need to become advisers, advocates, solution assemblers and brokers, not the holders of knowledge. In Chapter Three we made the argument for a ‘de-professionalisation’ of politics and public administration, breaking the tyranny of technique (Fischer, 2009). With a more positive spin, this is the democratisation of public policy – involving communities in public policies, decision making and the knowledge-to-policy process.

This necessitates among other things a more strategic role for local knowledge in development processes by setting conducive political and ethical conditions for development processes. This ensures that community members are adequately informed about projects under consideration; the information made available is both adequate, relevant and properly packaged; people are able to make sense of the information and it can be used as a tool in decision making. The role challenges peoples’ existing representation systems so that the project is inclusive – in short, it ensures that the beliefs and lived experiences of a community can be the starting point for research about local (p.147) and indigenous cultures; to use Tuhiwai Smith’s (1999) book title, Decolonizing Methodologies.

In such a de-professionalisation paradigm, what is the new role for the experts, consultants and development projects? It is not only to provide ready-made solutions or ‘best practices’, or even to create more expert knowledge, however important that latter may be in this ‘post-truth era’. What is more important is to assist citizens to engage in meaningful deliberations, to recognise their knowledge and give them voice. Experts and consultants also need to work further upstream, in what is sometimes referred to as the ‘enabling environment’, promoting a level playing field and opportunities for deliberative democracy and the co-production of knowledge. Experts and consultants can help citizens to understand and discuss the complex issues that affect their lives, using different sources of knowledge. This book has argued that local knowledge must be seen as part of political aspiration, as shared interest, rather than a separate or scientific body of knowledge. The issue is thus not one of the ‘scientific codification’ of knowledge, but rather about ‘whose knowledge’ and for what use.

Effective and more democratic state management and partnerships require improved governance practices at the local, national and international levels. Without evidence, policy makers fall back on intuition, ideology, conventional wisdom or theory (Banks, 2009: 4). As the empirical realities of globalisation, decentralisation, privatisation and democratisation have taken shape, revealing a range of outcomes, reform sequencing and process interaction has become more important. Policy reforms have become a ‘dynamic combination of purposes, rules, actions, resources, incentives and behaviours leading to outcomes that can only imperfectly be predicted or controlled’ (Brinkerhoff and Crosby, 2001: 5).

Going forward: a level playing field

The best policy options can be derailed if they fail to take into account other knowledge and other politics and how these might affect the policy options. We have presented several cases of this. For example, (p.148) in Torong Besi in East Nusa Tenggara, the community’s health and livelihood were being affected by a mining operation that impinged on local forests and polluted the river. Their attempts to bring this to the attention of authorities was failing until they began to work with an advocacy organisation that understood how to use local knowledge and combine it with scientific evidence and political pressures, ultimately leading to a change in policy. This case reminds us that it is important to link different types of knowledge as well as track the political context. In the face of persistent under-supply of water in Kupang, Pikul used local knowledge to identify sustainable approaches to water management and to integrate these with the scientific and engineering solutions needed to begin improving water supply. A third example is from PUSKA UI who worked with farmers through field schools to combine ‘hard’ science (agro-meteorology) with traditional knowledge of harvest patterns to address challenges around climate change. Where government-run outreach schools failed, these farmer-run science field shops, a collaboration between the University of Indonesia and local farmer associations, were more successful in working with farming communities to adapt to policy changes. Similar policy impact can also be read in our other cases.

As local knowledge does not travel well due to its time-and place-bound nature, more success is found in local policy processes than national ones. As we have discussed, various forms of local knowledge have been incorporated into local development practices, whether related to melesi, mawah, Keujreun Blang or customary whaling. These achievements were made possible through the support of local institutions, be they adat customary groups, local parliaments or community organisations. We were not able to document any cases in which these local practices were spread or replicated more broadly, beyond the local level. Maybe this is a characteristic of local knowledge – it is bound by place and time. The challenge for development partners (both national and international) is thus not one of replication of ‘best practices’, but rather to support communities and local governments to identify, codify and use development solutions that address shared (p.149) concerns: health insurance, environmental protection, resource management and access to finance.

All types of knowledge can be seen as assets and the work of our partners overwhelmingly support that view. That is, knowledge adds value to what decisions we make, how we implement those decisions, and how we learn and improve. For all types of knowledge to be treated as assets, the tensions among them need to be identified and addressed. Where we have seen successes in these cases, accommodations were made and respect retained even where there were fundamental disagreements.

When local knowledge is treated as an asset, we see benefits both to the local knowledge itself and to society as a whole through its contributions to the policy process. This reflects a sense of mutual benefit, of the co-production of knowledge integrating local with professional and scientific knowledge. When university researchers integrated local knowledge into their work, rather than simply treating the community as a convenient place to carry out their own research, we saw benefits emerge, for example in the science field shops. When bureaucrats did the same they were able to integrate aspects of local knowledge rather than install a new and untested policy in a community, as seen in the case of water management on the island of Timor, East Nusa Tenggara.

The basic premise that we set out to prove holds: local knowledge enriches public policies. The knowledge assets that our cases brought to policy making and development options include:

  • They produce better policies: a good example of this is the melesi social insurance scheme in Southeast Sulawesi.

  • They make public policies easier to accept and improve chances of implementation: the Keujruen Blang customary irrigation system in Aceh served as a communal mechanism for water distribution, as well as a venue for broader conflict resolution among community members.

  • Using local knowledge opens up policy making for a new set of actors: it democratises and de-professionalises policy making. Examples of (p.150) this are the consultations around forest management in Central Java and the social impact that local communities had on the mining industry.

  • Inclusion of under-represented and marginalised groups: PKPM could revitalise customary farmers’ associations by mobilising women in public consultations and LK3 could promote more inclusive river use by reaching out to women’s groups.

How can local knowledge enrich other forms of knowledge? We have seen throughout this book that the knowledge-to-policy cycle is not actually a cycle at all: it is a much messier and more complex process, a political process taking place in Banks’ ‘maelstrom of political energy, vested interests and lobbying’ (Banks, 2009: 9). The findings here are based on a small sample of cases and merit further verification against other cases of the use of local knowledge in public policy. Our cases suggest, however, that when we treat scientific, professional and local knowledge as all having something to offer public policy, especially policy at the local and regional level, the policy process benefits enormously. More than just knowledge contributing to policy formulation, local knowledge has played a central role in successful implementation of policies, in part because they are more grounded in the context, in part because the communities recognise the origin and purpose of the policy.

Building relationships to bridge local with scientific knowledge played a key role. We saw high value attached to scientific knowledge, but the cases also illustrate that scientific knowledge often failed in implementation. Building new water reservoirs without taking into account how the community itself managed its water supply resulted in waste and lost water resources. Bridging new technologies with traditional knowledge and approaches resulted in a much better solution. The tension between tourism and whaling needs dialogue and relationship building. Both are needed for the development of the community. Bringing them into harmony has met with some initial success but will need on-going relationship building and communication among the competing interests.

(p.151) Together, these knowledge assets have improved our contextual understanding of local development processes, and have begun to restore the organic link between practical discourse and public policy by providing a forum for non-academic, but rich sources of socially relevant knowledge. (p.152)